by Ian McNulty
Though Warren Leruth died a decade ago, the legacy of this New Orleans chef, food scientist and restaurant consultant is still palpable. You can taste it in such local staples as oyster and artichoke soup, one of the original standards at his renowned restaurant LeRuth’s; in Green Goddess salad dressing, which he developed in the early 1960s; and even in the recipes for biscuits, red beans and dirty rice from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which he created for that company when it was based in Louisiana.
But Leruth’s legacy also lives on in the success of the many other restaurateurs who count him as a mentor and in those touched by the philanthropic generosity for which he was known. To honor that spirit, St. Michael’s Special School today unveiled a new seven-foot statue of Leruth at its Uptown campus before a gathering of local chefs, Leruth family members and the St. Michael’s student body.
The school, which serves developmentally-disabled children, has for more then 30 years been the beneficiary of the Chefs’ Charity for Children. This culinary fundraiser was created in 1978 by Leruth and his longtime friend, the late journalist Phil Johnson of WWL-TV, and has since raised more than $1 million.
“My father was at a point then where he wanted to give back and especially to people who really needed it,” explained Larry Leruth, the late chef’s son. “One of the things my father annunciated throughout his life was love — love for his fellow chefs, love for each other and love for God.”
Leruth’s generosity was well-known. In 1999, the industry group Distinguished Restaurants of North America honored him as the first recipient of its Extra Plate Humanitarian Award for his work with St. Michael's. Here’s how Leruth himself explained his motivation at the time of the award:
"Without sounding corny, I decided that I wanted to give back some of what God has given to me. I wanted to do something to help people who couldn't help themselves, and the more I give, the more I find that other chefs are also willing to get involved and help out in their own way."
Chefs’ Charity for Children is a seated luncheon held each year in the Hilton Riverside Hotel and prepared by a core group of local chefs who volunteer their time to participate. Hundreds of people attend and the event usually sells out early. The chefs involved today include Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, Gunter Preuss of Broussard’s Restaurant, John Folse, Leah Chase of Dooky Chase Restaurant, Goffredo Fraccaro of Metairie’s now-closed La Riviera Restaurant, Lazone Randolph of Brennan’s Restaurant, Frank Brigtsen of Brigten’s Restaurant, the Wong brothers of Trey Yuen, David Woodward of the Hilton and Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea’s Restaurant.
Recruiting chefs to join the event was never difficult, Larry Leruth says, thanks to the relationships his father built over the years across the restaurant industry.
“My dad lived and breathed food 24/7, 365 days a year,” he says. “Even after he retired, he was always working on something new or helping other people get their ideas off the ground.”
A native of New Orleans, Leruth studied physics at Louisiana State University but left school in the 1940s to apprentice at Solari's, the bygone New Orleans food emporium. He later worked in the kitchen at Galatoire’s, Diamond Jim Moran's and the Monteleone Hotel. He served in the Army during the Korean War, becoming the personal chef for a general. After the war, he worked in corporate research kitchens, including at Anderson Clayton, where he developed a salad dressing that was both pourable and would not separate in its bottle. This became the Seven Seas brand (now part of Kraft Foods), which included his Green Goddess recipe.
In 1965 he opened LeRuth’s (spelled with a capital R) in a small, converted house in Gretna. Word of the chef’s creative approach to Creole cuisine spread quickly and the restaurant became a top dining destination, luring locals and visitors over the Mississippi River for dinner.
Richard Collin, the pioneering New Orleans restaurant critic, called Leruth a “genius” and once described his restaurant as “a culinary miracle” and “one of the finest eating places in the world.” Collin and others credit him with reinvigorating New Orleans cuisine from the doldrums that traditional French Creole restaurants had reached by the 1960s.
Leruth sold his restaurant in 1982 and continued to work as a R&D consultant for food makers and restaurant concepts, including what would become the Outback Steakhouse chain. He died in November 2001 at age 72.
Chefs’ Charity for Children continues with its annual event, which is planned for the spring of 2012. In the meantime, long-time event supporter Broussard’s Restaurant is hosting a separate benefit for St. Michael’s Special School tomorrow, Dec. 14.
This event, called Chef’s Christmas Charity, features a performance by the English Bell-Ringing Choir of St. Michael’s Special School and a German-themed Reveillon dinner. The four-course meal includes wines, plus hors d’oeuvres during the St. Michael’s concert. It begins at 6:15 p.m. and costs $75 per person. Menu details follow:
Lachs Forelle Gefüllt Mit Krebsfleisch auf Fenchel, Mit Kapern Sosse
Salmon Trout Filet with Crabmeat Stuffing on Fresh Fennel with Mustard Caper Sauce
Apfel und Sellerie Salat, Schnittlauch Marinade
Celeriac and Apple salad with Chive Dressing
Gebratene Kalbshaxe, Frisches Gemüse und Röstis
Braised Veal Shank in Red Wine with Hash Brown Cake and Assorted Vegetables
Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce
Apfel Strudel, Vanille Sosse
Inclusive of featured wines and menu
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (504) 581-3866 to register today!